Indiana is part of a bipartisan movement for juvenile justice reinvestment known as the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI). JDAI is a public-private partnership being implemented nationwide. For more than 20 years, JDAI has proven that the juvenile justice system’s dual goals of promoting positive youth development and enhancing public safety are not in conflict and can be greatly strengthened by eliminating unnecessary or inappropriate confinement.
Boone County Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative Coordinator Denise Schoeff and Boone County Prosecutor Kent Eastwood spoke about the county’s JDAI preventative programs, its successes and its challenges.
A Brief Overview of Indiana JDAI’s Core Strategies
Indiana is one of nearly 200 JDAI sites in 39 states and the District of Columbia to implement the eight core strategies of JDAI to enhance and improve their juvenile justice systems.
JDAI is based upon eight core, interconnected strategies that address the primary reasons why youth are unnecessarily or inappropriately detained.
These strategies are
- Objective Admissions
- Expedited Case Processing
- Reducing Racial Disparity
- Data-Driven Decisions
- Alternatives to Detention
- Special Detention Cases
- Conditions of Confinement
Marion County joined the JDAI in 2006, becoming the first JDAI site in Indiana. By 2012, the county had reduced admissions to detention by 65.5% and the average daily population in detention had fallen by 47.4%. Felony petitions filed have also been reduced by 18.7%. The county has saved millions of taxpayer dollars, previously used for incarceration, through the use of less expensive and more effective community-based alternative sanctions for nonviolent juvenile offenders.
In 2014, the Indiana JDAI expanded and added 11 additional counties, including Boone County. The goal is to advance the proven JDAI strategies to include all 92 counties throughout the state who wish to participate.
As one of the first states in the nation to implement JDAI on a statewide basis, Indiana continues to be a national leader in advancing the cause of an equitable and effective juvenile justice system.
From the Prosecutor’s Perspective
“There has been a recent change in juvenile law,” Eastwood said. “When juveniles are arrested and charged as adults, there are three things that can happen: the judge can make a specific finding under the law that they could be held in our jail with the [adult] general population, the judge can put that individual on a GPS bracelet, which may not be the right situation for our community—safety-wise—or the other option is to put them in a facility where they cannot have sight or sound of adults. Boone County doesn’t have that ability right now, and so we have to pay someone else [out of county] to house them, and right now we’re sending them to Allen County.”
Eastwood pointed out that in addition to the cost of housing juveniles out of county [$100 per diem], the other significant issue is that Boone County must send two to three officers to Allen County to bring that juvenile back to Boone County for court appearances, etc. These juveniles are also not able to access the programs that they would be able to participate in if they were housed locally in the county.
“The [proposed] justice center will have temporary housing for juveniles for this particular reason,” Eastwood mentioned. “As the county grows, our juvenile caseload grows. It has grown between 2019 and 2020 by 35%, and the cases that we’ve filed against juveniles in the first quarter of 2021 is another 5%.”
JDAI Preventative Programs and Outreach
A core purpose of JDAI is to keep juveniles out of the system and to change the trajectory of the lives of the youth who are in the system. Utilizing strategies created by Strategies for Youth—an East Coast nonprofit—Schoeff uses grant monies to bring in programs such as Parenting the Teen Brain, Policing the Teen Brain, and Teaching the Teen Brain and trains parents, police officers, counselors, teachers, and anyone who works directly with children on how to implement these proven strategies.
“We started a Parenting the Teen Brain in March of last year, right before everything was shut down [due to COVID-19],” Schoeff said. “We had 60 parents from Boone County and a teaching team from Anderson University. We have set a new date for our next [Parenting the Teen Brain] for Oct. 26 and 27. It is for anyone who works with kids. Police and probation officers have attended, as have representatives from InWell and Aspire [Indiana].”
Schoeff’s salary is paid by the county, but the funds that she uses for programming and supplies come through grants awarded from the Indiana Department of Correction (DOC).
Boone County Commissioner Tom Santelli stated,
Schoeff added, “Half of my job is data collection and analysis, and we look at all of that when we have our stakeholder meetings every quarter. I have subcommittees that do a deep dive into the data. For example, we do what we call an ‘onion peel’ on our numbers of youth of color (YOC), and we look at those numbers every year. We [Boone County] do have a disproportionate amount of YOC arrested in our county.”
According to Commissioner Santelli, 70% of the youth committing crimes in Boone County are coming from outside of the county.
Child Advocates and Mentors
The Boone County JDAI program has a Family Navigator who is on call so when a Boone County parent or guardian finds their child is in trouble with the law, the parents have someone who can walk them through the entire process.
“The Family Navigator will get back to the parents/guardians within 24 hours,” Schoeff said. “They will not give legal advice but will tell the parents/guardians what the next steps will be and what they can expect.”
There are organizations within the county that collaborate with Schoeff, such as the Boone County Mentoring Programa volunteer program that matches mentors with mentees with similar interests and personalities. It is a minimum of four hours a month commitment.
“We need more positive influences for these kids,” Schoeff emphasized. “There are quarterly trainings for the mentors, and there’s a lot of support for the mentors.”
The purpose of Boone County’s JDAI programs is to address the problems, list the solutions, and train parents, teachers, officers, etc., who feel compelled to get involved, on how to reach kids before they get to the point of detention. The services provided by JDAI are proven to reduce the rate of recidivism, and when the child has come out of the system, they are emotionally balanced and healthy, and ready to go forward with their lives.
For more information about Boone County JDAI programs, contact Denise Schoeff at [email protected]. And for information about the Boone County Mentoring Program, visit boonecountymentoring.org.